Saddam in the Crosshairs

Beyond Osama: The Pentagon’s Battle With Powell Heats Up

According to both Pentagon and intelligence sources, in mid September the Project for the New American Century—a hawkish private policy group whose membership overlaps with the official Defense Policy Board—sent President Bush a letter after a two-day conference, declaring that failure to promptly remove Saddam would constitute a "decisive surrender in the war against terrorism." Ominously, it also held that if Syria and Iran refused to drop all support for Hezbollah, "the administration should consider appropriate measures of retaliation against these known state sponsors of terrorism."

Perle's Defense Policy Board also sent Bush a letter recommending all measures be taken to install the heretofore dubious and ineffectual Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi as new leadership in Baghdad, backed by the deployment of American troops to secure Iraqi oil fields. The board also implicitly slammed Powell, declaring that "coalition-building has run amok," and arguing that Powell was less interested in achieving anything of substance than simply get[ting] a lot of members."

The Project for the New American Century conclave and subsequent memos were news to Powell, who reportedly considered the whole scheme a highly improper end run. At the Pentagon, some hold that Powell did the administration a disservice when, after Wolfowitz made a passing reference to "ending states" that sponsor terrorism, Powell—in response to a reporter's question on the remark—edgily shot back that Wolfowitz was not speaking for the administration. "Powell essentially took a polite, behind-the-scenes policy debate public," says a Pentagon staffer, adding that "privately, Paul has said he misspoke," and implying that Powell knew as much, thus making his public rebuke bad form.

Illustration by Anthony Freda

But according to intelligence and diplomatic sources, Powell—as well as George Tenet—was infuriated by a private intelligence endeavor arranged by Wolfowitz in September. Apparently obsessed with proving a convoluted theory put forth by American Enterprise Institute adjunct fellow Laurie Mylroie that ties Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Wolfowitz, according to a veteran intelligence officer, dispatched former director of central intelligence and cabalist James Woolsey to the United Kingdom, tasking him with gathering additional "evidence" to make the case. Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohammed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.

Perhaps the most conservative of early Bill Clinton appointees, Woolsey has only moved rightward since his tenure as DCI—which ended with his resignation in 1995, in part due to failures of attempted anti-Saddam covert operations. Apparently proving that directors of intelligence organizations do not themselves make ideal field operatives, Woolsey's pursuit of the World Trade Center connection led him to the small town of Swansea, Wales, where his sleuthing piqued the curiosity of the local constabulary, whose chief decided to ring the U.S. Embassy in London for clarification as to whether Woolsey was visiting in an official capacity. This was the first anyone at State or CIA had heard of Woolsey's British expedition, and upon being apprised of it, Powell and Tenet were not amused. "It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do," an intelligence consultant familiar with the "operation" said.

According to a senior Pentagon official, the fact that Wolfowitz has been keeping a much lower profile since his earlier public statements and behind-the-scenes antics indicates that while Donald Rumsfeld may be with Wolfowitz in spirit, the secretary has found his actions irksome in a practical sense. "Wolfowitz either muzzled himself," the official said, "or someone did it for him."

Other fellow travelers who are not in government, however, have been picking up the slack and saying things that have caused the jaws of diplomats and intelligence officers to drop. At an October 29 American Enterprise Institute panel moderated by Perle, Iran-Contra luminary Michael Ledeen nicely summed up the hawks' worldview.

"No stages," he said. "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. And all this talk about, well, first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq, then we will take a look around and see how things stand, that is entirely the wrong way to go about it. Because these guys are all talking to each other and are all working with one another. . . . If we just let our own vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to be clever and piece together clever diplomatic solutions to this thing, but just wage a total war against these tyrants, I think we will do very well, and our children will sing great songs about us years from now."

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